Major new ad campaign -- aimed at Blue Dog Rep. Chris Carney -- begins

The tidal wave of TV, radio, newspaper and billboard ads in Carney's district arose out of his active support for warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty.

Published May 20, 2008 10:22AM (EDT)

(updated below)

A major new ad campaign aimed at freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Carney of Pennsylvania will begin this week. The campaign -- funded by donations from readers of several blogs -- will swamp Carney's Northeastern Pennsylvania district with a coordinated series of ads on television stations and top-rated radio programs, full-page ads in six out of seven of the largest newspapers in Carney's district, and strategically placed billboards on major roads. The impetus and rationale for the ad campaign was explained here.

The campaign arises out of the leading role Carney has been playing in pressuring the House to vest the President with vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers and to bestow amnesty to telecoms which illegally allowed warrantless spying by the Bush administration on their own customers. Carney has received substantial campaign contributions from several of the telecoms which stand to benefit most from the amnesty he supports.

Carney is a so-called "Blue Dog" Democrat who continuously sides with the Bush administration and supports its most radical policies. In addition to his leading role in demanding warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, he has repeatedly voted against timetables to end the war in Iraq. He is a close associate of Douglas Feith, with whom he worked on pre-war "intelligence" at the Rumsfeld Pentagon, and Carney still claims that "there were links between Iraq and Al Qaeda." Unsurprisingly, then, Carney has spoken out against Congressional investigations into those responsible for pre-war intelligence "failures" (which would include himself and Feith), calling such investigations a "major distraction." Among his most enthusiastic supporters in 2006 was Richard Perle.

Here is the 30-second television ad that will run on numerous stations in Carney's district beginning this upcoming week:

Here is the full-page newspaper ad that will begin running a week from Sunday in virtually all newspapers in Carney's district (click on the image to see the full-sized ad):

I will post the audio of the 60-second radio ad once it is finalized later today. The radio ad expands on the themes in the TV ad, with a focus on how corrupt and un-American are the warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty policies Carney is aggressively working to enact.

The ad campaign aimed at Carney comes at a time when there are increasing numbers of reports that the House Democratic leadership, spearheaded by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, is working to reverse one of the only victories they have had since being given control of Congress in 2006: namely, their refusal to pass the Cheney-Rockefeller FISA/amnesty bill and, instead, to insist on their own, far superior bill which would make modest changes to FISA and allow the telecoms to submit in secret all exculpatory evidence they have to a court. For weeks, reports have suggested that Hoyer, with the prodding of a handful of Blue Dogs such as Carney, has been negotiating a bill that they will call a "compromise" but which will, in reality, guarantee the end of the lawsuits brought against telecoms and vest the President with the the vast bulk of the warrantless eavesdropping powers he has been demanding.

Unlike Carney, numerous House Democratic candidates this year -- including those from red districts -- have spoken out strongly against telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping. Bill Foster, who just won a special election in Denny Hastert's bright red Illinois district, emphatically opposed the FISA/amnesty bill, and won.

House Democratic candidate Alan Grayson -- a credible challenger to Far Right incumbent Ric Keller in Central Florida -- said: "The fact that Congress even is considering retroactive immunity shows that the law is for sale, and the phone companies are buying." Rabbi Dennis Schulman, the Democratic challenger to vulnerable GOP incumbent Scott Garrett in New Jersey, said yesterday:

While of course the push to provide retroactive immunity is part of a dangerous attack on our civil liberties, I think the issue is best thought of as one of law and order. The law was clear, and all parties knew the law. Retroactive immunity can seem like a complicated issue, but at its core, it is about holding law breakers responsible for their actions. It is sad that whether or not to enforce the law has become a subject of controversy.

Several of the leading House Democratic challengers this year -- including Darcy Burner and Donna Edwards -- have spoken out eloquently and emphatically against telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping.

As is clear, then, Chris Carney isn't demanding the enactment of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty because doing so is politically necessary. Instead, he's doing it because he believes in those things and/or because Carney is afraid of the political price he thinks he will pay if the President does not get what he demands (and, relatedly, because he believes that there is no price to pay for supporting such radical measures).

* * * * *

This campaign against Carney is intended to be but the first of its kind, a template, for conveying to Beltway Democrats that there will be a price to pay, real consequences, when they support the most radical, destructive and corrupt right-wing policies. There is widespread consensus that no matter what happens, House Democrats will substantially increase their margin this year. But if -- as appears to be the case -- a bulk of that increase comes from "Blue Dogs" like Carney, then it will make little difference. In fact, it might even be worse, since the effect of "Blue Dogs" is measured by far more than just the number of votes they cast. They essentially ensure that the Bush-following faction of the GOP maintains a working majority in Congress.

That is true particularly if there continues to be no incentive for Congressional Democrats to pay attention to their base and do anything other than support the right-wing agenda, because they perceive that they only pay a price when they oppose the Right. That is the incentive scheme that has to change.

This ad campaign and similar ones that will follow are designed to change that incentive structure. The mentality of blindly supporting (or being afraid to criticize) Democrats like Carney no matter what they do, no matter how extreme their behavior is, ensures that there will be no reason for Congressional Democrats to do anything other than what they've been doing. In light of the large margin House Democrats inevitably will have after this year's election, the benefits from ad campaigns like this one (creating incentives for Congressional Democrats to change their behavior) easily outweigh whatever benefits there are (if any) to allowing Chris Carney and his Blue Dog comrades to support things like warrantless eavesdropping, telecom amnesty and the war with complete impunity.

Because the core goal of the Blue America PAC is to support worthy Democratic candidates (such as Burner, Edwards, Grayson and Schulman), a new organization is now being created, and one of its principal purposes will be to coordinate and fund ad campaigns of the type directed now at Carney. That will be unveiled shortly. Until then, those who want to contribute to the Carney ad campaign -- which will enable even more ads to be purchased in his district or which will enable similar ads to run against other House members supporting amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping -- can do so here.

UPDATE: The National Journal today reports (sub. rq'd) that while Steny Hoyer's goal of having a "compromise" achieved before Memorial Day is now unlikely, Nancy Pelosi is pressuring her caucus to support a "compromise" on telecom amnesty -- i.e., allowing the FISA court to decide in secret if telecoms should be immunized -- which will be anything but a compromise, as that would virtually guarantee dismissal of the telecom lawsuits:

After months of complaints about her lack of proactive involvement behind the scenes, Caucus and leadership sources said House Speaker Pelosi stepped into the fray last week. She told several leading House liberals -- including House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., -- in a closed-door meeting that included Blue Dogs that a compromise would likely be needed on the issue of granting immunity to the telecoms. The liberal Democrats have been unyielding in their insistence that telecoms be held accountable for their actions. Pelosi is said to have argued this was needed to get a guarantee that the regulation of electronic eavesdropping would be the exclusive purview of the FISA court.

Unsurprisingly, it is the "Blue Dogs" who are forcing this resolution:

Looming in the background is a threat from moderate-to-conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House to force a vote on a Senate-passed FISA bill, which includes a Bush administration-backed provision granting retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have helped it conduct electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens without warrants.

That's why this ad campaign, and more like it, are so urgent. If these Blue Dogs are going to act as the controlling faction in the House to ensure enactment of the most radical and lawless right-wing measures, then they need to be targeted -- so that they either change their behavior or at least know there is a price tag attached to that conduct. Until that happens, the status quo will continue merrily along. Contributions to the ad campaign can be made here.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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